IN appearance, the conditions of life at Escal-Vigor, the relations between Kehlmark, Blandine,the young Govaertz and Landrillon underwent no alteration.
The valet, being ignorant of the explanation which Blandine had had with the Count, believed her to be entirely won over to his projects, and never ceased to present to her in an odious light the relations between the Dykgrave and his favourite. She was forced to listen to his hateful jests and to push dissimulation so far as to pretend to agree with the wretch. Further, Landrillon pressed her to surrender herself to him. In face of Blandine's refusal, he became impatient: "Come, be kind," said he, "and I promise not to disturb his idyll with young Govaertz; if not, I'll not be able to answer for anything further."
Blandine did her best to amuse him, to gain time. She even went so far as to promise him marriage on condition of his keeping silence. "I accept the terms," he said, "but you must pay cash down."
"Oh, nonsense, there's no hurry," objected Blandine, "let us stay here a bit longer to add to our little hoard."
This virtuous woman, if ever there was one, let herself pass for a jade in the eyes of the rascal, who admired her for it only the more, never before having met with such hypocrisy and dissimulation. This duplicity delighted him, but not without also frightening him a little. Would not the rollicking wench after all be somewhat too "fast" for him? To Blandine's misfortune, he became more and more carnally enamoured of her. He would have so much liked "to draw a trifle on account," he said. Blandine now defended herself but half-heartedly, she eluded the consummation of the sacrifice, but could no longer escape it for any length of time. Landrillon redoubled his familiarities.
In truth, never had Blandine loved Henry de Kehlmark so much. Her sufferings then may be imagined. On the one side, exposed to the enterprises of an execrable clown and obliged to flatter his hatred of the Dykgrave: and on the other, forced to witness the close intimacy and communion of Kehlmark and the young Govaertz.
Atrocious heart-rendings! At times, nature and instinct fought to resume their sway: she was on the point of denouncing Landrillon to his master; but the domestic if dismissed, would have avenged himself on Kehlmark by revealing what he called "his disgraceful conduct." At other times, Blandine, at the end of her strength, placed between the harrowing alternatives, either to give herself up to Landrillon or to ruin Kehlmark, had resolved to fly, to throw up the game; she even longed for death, thought of casting herself into the sea, but her love for the Count prevented her from putting such a project into execution. She could not abandon him to the snares of his enemies; she desired to protect him, to serve him as a shield and buckler against himself.
As she had to do terrible violence to herself not to show too much coldness to the young Govaertz, she avoided meeting with him, keeping out of his way and refrained as much as possible from coming to the table. She explained these absences by alleging headache.
"What can be the matter with Madame Blandine?" the little Guidon asked his friend. "I see such a strange look in her eyes."
"A slight indisposition; nothing at all; it will pass. Don't worry about it."
The poor woman often went about the house, like a lunatic, banging the doors and oversetting the furniture with great noise, through an impulse to break something or to cry aloud her intolerable pain; but, if she encountered Kehlmark he daunted and subdued her with a look.
One day, when Landrillon had particularly enervated her by threatening that he would no longer spare Kehlmark unless she gave herself up to him, she escaped once more from his odious importunities, and her head a little over-balanced, made a sudden irruption into the studio where the Count was sitting with his pupil. Her feelings were beyond her control. She could not resist casting a glance of disapproval at the peasant boy. The two friends were in the act of reading. None of the three said a word. But never was silence fuller of menace. She retired immediately, alarmed at the consequences of her intrusion.
"Blandine, you forget our agreement," said Kehlmark the first time he found himself alone with her.
"Forgive me, Henry, I can go on no longer. I have presumed too much on my strength. You love nobody but him. The rest of the world has ceased to exist for you. You scarcely accord me a look or a word."
"Well, yes," said he, resolutely, with a certain solemnity, and with the courage of the stoic holding his hand over the flames of the brazier. "Yes, I love him above everything. Outside of him I see for myself no salvation."
"Love another woman; yes, if thou art weary of me, take that Claudie, who longs for thee with all her boiling blood, but—"
"But I swear to thee that this child suffices for me!"
"Oh, it is not possible!"
"I love him, I shall never love but him."
Kehlmark knew that he was dealing a terrible blow to his companion, but he himself was worn out; the weapon with which he struck he turned again into his own wound; he must have passed through such torments that he was in the situation of one who is damned, eager to share his punishment with others.
"Ah," he continued, "thou wishest to separate me from this child! So much the worse for thee! Thou shalt see at once how I detach myself from me. And to begin, this is my reply to thy appeals. Henceforth, Guidon shall leave me no more; he shall live in the chateau for good."
"Take care; I suffer to such an extent that I may do thee harm without intending it. There are moments when I feel myself going mad, when I can no longer answer for myself."
"How then, about me!" sneered the Dykgrave, "I am at the end of my patience. Thou hast wished it; thou hast forced me to come to these extremities. I spared thee; I confined myself to suffering alone; in order not to afflict thee I hid my sore, my secret. Unhappy Blandine, I dealt with thee gently convinced that thou also would'st refuse to understand me and would'st deny me. Thou hast wished to know; thou shalt know all. Be at ease, I will now conceal nothing from thee. Henceforth no further need to spy on me. Thy jealousy did not deceive thee: it is indeed love, the most absolute love, with which I love young Guidon … I adore him."
She uttered a cry of horror. The fond mistress and the Christian in her were equally shocked.
"Oh, Henry, for pity's sake; thou'rt not telling the truth; thou could'st not so degrade thyself.
"Degrade myself! On the contrary, I am proud of it!"
There were scenes more and more violent between them. Blandine yielded, submitted, divided between horror and infinite compassion, which, when united, form one of the most corrosive forms of love.
Guidon now slept at the château. Blandine avoided him, but she showed herself at times to Kehlmark, and such was the expression of her face that at sight of her the Count broke out into reproaches.
"Take care, Blandine," he said to her on another occasion, "you are playing a dangerous game. Without loving you in the way of love, I have devoted to you a sort of worship based on profound gratitude. I revered you as I have never revered any woman save my grandmother.
"But in the end I shall execrate you. By placing yourself always as an obstacle in the path of my desires, you will become as odious to me as an executioner, who should take it into his head to deprive me of food and sleep. Ah, you are doing a fine, charitable work, you holy, virtuous, angelic woman!
"With thy airs and mute reproaches, thy face of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, if I die mad thou mayest boast of being the chief extinguisher of my reason.
"For more than a year hast thou spied on me, thwarted me, harassed me, and burnt my very heart over a slow fire, under pretence of loving me."
—" Why did you seduce me?" she asked him.
—"Seduce thee! Thou wert no virgin!" he had the wickedness to fling back in reply.
"Fi, Monsieur! in speaking to me thus you are more brutal than the poor wretch who outraged me. You are more guilty than he, because you possessed me without joy and without love.
"I wished to change myself, to conquer myself, to overcome my inveterate repugnances, he replied. Thou art the only woman indeed whom I have possessed; the only one who went near to stirring my blood."